Manoel does it again

The one film career which I have followed longest (since Os Canibais, 1988 -- a wonderful opera with a delightfully odd libretto), that of Manoel de Oliveira, has delivered another of its usual short, quirky, otherworldly jewels: Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loura . Based on a short story by Eça de Queirós, Portugal's better-than-Flaubert, the film's action is firmly set in the nineteenth century bourgeois ethos (boy loses employment with his uncle when he develops a fancy for a girl his uncle disapproves of; quits the family business; undertakes a colonial venture; returns home to marry her, but rejects her upon discovering that she is inclined to... shop-lift) -- but also set in modern Lisbon's realities -- restaurants, euros, traffic, neon lights.

It's as if the heroes were ghosts still living out their great tragedy a hundred years later, oblivious to the fact that they have died, time has passed, and everything has changed around them.

The film's otherworldliness is only increased -- and rendered more delightful -- by a kind of fanciful, dream-like jumbling up of the city: the house where the boy works is in a recognizable street in Chiado, though the view from the storefront is onto the market hall in Principe Real and at 11 o'clock one hears from it clearly the bells of... the Basilica de Estrella -- at the top of Lapa, of course. Etc. A kind of know-your-lisbon test for her lovers.

The recurring view of Castello and the Graca hill (where I now live) is, by the way, not from the Miradouro, but from the terrace of Hotel de Chiado.

I failed one of the test's trick questions: in a certain scene a bell strikes one on a church tower with a handless clock; there are trees in front of it, possibly jacaranda. I could not identify it. Santos-o-velho? Sao Antonio? Sao Mamede? Or -- does Carmello have a tower? I will spend the next week walking with my eyes raised up to gaze at the city's clock-towers -- until I find it.


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